REVIEW: Veiled Rebellion @ Side Gallery
By Hannah Kelville on September 12, 2012 in Art & Design
There will probably be only a handful of exhibitions you will ever see which will leave you feeling both moved and educated, but Lynsey Addario’s photographic series Veiled Rebellion is definitely one of them.
Addario is an American photojournalist who has ventured to some of the most dangerous parts of the world. She is best known for photographing in times of conflict focussing on human rights issues and the role of women in society. Addario first travelled to Afghanistan in 2000, before the fall of the Taliban regime. Since then she has visited Afghanistan almost every year, extensively documenting life across the country and keeping a close eye on the changing lives of the women who live there. The series of photographs that became Veiled Rebellion occurred as a result of a commission by the National Geographic in 2009 to photograph the lives of women in Afghanistan. The photographs portray a wide spectrum of life of the women, from employment and education to health to culture and domestic life, all aspects previously rarely documented.
Many of the images are difficult to observe, and graphically illustrate the oppression and brutality Afghan women and girls are forced to endure every day of their lives. Forced marriages, violence and domestic abuse are recurring themes in the exhibition. There are examples of horrific acts of violence, one young woman had her nose and ears cut off by her husband after she attempted to escape him, another woman is trapped in prison after asking for a divorce from her abusive husband. Often even more unsettling than the image is the detailed caption which describes the photograph’s back story.
One disturbing image shows a burned and scarred 11 year old girl. She has deliberately burned herself. The caption beside the image explains that this is not a rare occurrence. Addario writes “Many Afghan women burn themselves because they believe suicide is the only escape from an abusive marriage, abusive family members, poverty, or the stress of war. If they do survive, women fear being shamed or punished for what they did and may blame a gas explosion when they were cooking.” Another photograph shows Doctors trying in vain to save a fifteen year old girl who set herself alight after being accused of stealing. Her body is over 95% burned. Addario writes that the girl passed away three days after she took the photograph.
The exhibition would seem unremittingly bleak without a few key images that indicate the beginning of an improvement in the lives of women. After viewing such traumatic images, it is uplifting to see recent photographs of a female boxing team training for the London Olympics, female students at their graduation or Afghan policewomen at a firing range. But despite these promising developments, we are reminded that things still have a long way to go. In order to become a policewoman or an athlete or even just to be photographed, women must have the permission of their husband or a male guardian.
Opposition to female independence is everywhere and violent counter attacks are not uncommon. Actress Trena Ameri is pictured driving a car; her hair, face and arms on show. Male drivers can be seen glaring at her from neighbouring vehicles. Addario describes how it ‘provokes men in Afghanistan to see strong women’ as it symbolizes a ‘freedom they just aren’t comfortable with.’ Another image shows Shamsia Jafari, a school girl who’s face has been scarred after men sprayed her and 10 other girls with acid, as they entered their school in Kandahar. Men such as these, hope to prevent girls from seeking education through attacks and intimidation. I was proud to read that the majority of the girls have chosen to still attend the school despite the fears for their safety. The immense bravery of the women in this exhibition shows that there is hope for the future for the women of Afghanistan.
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